Danger and Opportunity

We ferried to Haines on Friday, crossed the bay, stepped through our cabin door, and have been managing crises ever since.

It’s my fault, really. Before we left, Michelle wanted to shut the “homestead” down as we used to when we first owned it. We lived in Juneau, and visited the land. When the time came to leave, we would shut off the water, drain the system, and empty the wood-fired heater. This time consuming process would have been a wise precaution, but I reasoned that it ate up time and created considerable tension on a day when we had to get across the bay ahead of the tide.

I assumed that the cabin would hold enough heat that nothing would freeze. I assumed wrong.

R2D2 is dead. The water heater after ice damage (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

R2D2 is dead. The water heater after ice damage (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

The inside temperature stood at 25° when we arrived. Outside temperatures had been below freezing for about a week. We found our water filter pitchers frozen. The water heater had frozen solid, and expanding ice had ripped the top off of it like a tin can.The 5-gallon water jug I’d filled before we left, against just such a contingency, had become a big ice cube. Oddly, a glass jug, less than a quarter full of water, sat on the floor, unfrozen. But, all the water in the pipes had solidified.

We got right to work. We disconnected the water heater and hauled it outside. I started a tiny fire in the wood stove. It’s cast iron, so starting a fast, big fire in it could have destroyed it. I patiently warmed it up before building to a blaze large enough to warm the house.

We stayed bundled up in our warmest coats, knowing that it would take hours to warm the log walls. We went to bed in our 45° bedroom, after banking the fire for the night. By midmorning Saturday, the room had warmed to 56°.

Once the room had warmed, the pipes inside began to thaw, revealing ruptures in the copper pipe plumbing. I wrapped patch tape over the splits to stop the leaks, we banked the fire again, and went to town to get Spice, our cat, from the sitter.

We also took a diagram of our water system to a hardware store, and purchased a replacement system.

Back when we began to work on the next hot water heater, we speculated that pex pipe could replace our tangle of copper pipes. With the freezing and ruptures, we had an opportunity to execute that idea.

When we came home in the evening, we chopped icicles off the seeps in the hillside to melt into hot water on the wood stove. Then we dumped it down the drain.

The man who built our cabin ran the drainpipe alongside the water intake hose, and encased them both in insulation. If the intake hose freezes, pouring hot water down the drain thaws it in short order. As it did this time.

The next step is to rip out our plumbing and replace it with the new system, and install the hot water that has been waiting in the wings for a year now (see Time to Change the Water Heater).

Meanwhile, the cold flattened our fully-charged battery bank. We’ve had some sun, but not much, and no wind to speak of, or forecasted before Monday or Tuesday. That has kept us offline almost completely. Not that we have much time for it anyway.

The wine came through just fine! I’d made a blanket nest for the working jugs, and they stayed liquid. As soon as the cabin warmed, they began fermenting again. That’s a relief.

I’m sure you’ve heard that the Chinese character for “crisis” combines the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” Since returning home, I can see why they might combine those two concepts.

Anyway, time to get back at it. We’ve got a plumbing system to rebuild!

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6 Responses to Danger and Opportunity

  1. Patricia says:

    Yikes! I had wondered why we had not heard from you. Oh, well, good luck with the rebuilding!

  2. Linn Hartman says:

    The exact reason I decided to set out CLION and DION here in N. Arkansas rather than go visit our daughter in South Mississippi for a few days. They were predicting single digit temps and that would have meant keeping a good check on the pipes. Didn’t get quite that cold but everything is covered with ice. The only good thing to do is keep the heat going, drink coffee and check the blogs-Your brother has a good one going on a design for a new boat-gives me ideas on my on design-hope you get humty dumty all put back todether soon.

  3. Dave Z says:

    Oh man, guys… if it ain’t one durned thang, it’s t’other!

    Sorry you had such a hard, cold homecoming, but I salute the spirit with which you greet it!

    Sending you Warm Vibes!


    Dave and Anke

    PS… I’m hoping to try ‘jacking’ some of our wine, this year (letting it freeze and fishing out the H20/ice, leaving behind the flavor and alcohol at higher concentrations). But since you had no freezing in your wine, I wonder if our temps will suffice?

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Dave, I think jacking is still possible. Remember that we took precautions to keep our wine from freezing. Trying to freeze it would be an entirely different process. I eagerly await word of results!

  5. Roger Murphy says:

    Wow what an adventure!
    A thought on your dead battery situation: have you considered a pedal powered supplement to your solar/wind generators? I have only begun to read your many posts so perhaps you have already considered it

  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Roger,

    Important point: the batteries never go dead, their levels just drop to or below our self-imposed limit, around 75%, with 50% being the absolute limit.

    We’d love to have a pedal generator! Aly always wanted one to power our movies, so she could “earn” them as she watched them. We’ve often wished we could power individual projects this way. Have you ever priced one of those units? They’re quite expensive. We’ve seen a few plans for building them ourselves. We may yet do that one day.

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